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Neonatal Care Goes Low Tech in Columbia

Mothers replace incubators at neonatal unit in Bogota Hospital for healthier premature babies.

Lack of funds, staff and equipment paved the way for a novel health care idea in Bogota, Colombia. Tina Rosenberg writes in the Opinion Pages of today's New York Times about using humans to replace incubators at the Mother and Child Institute.

Rosenberg describes the logic of what is known as "kangaroo therapy":


What is the purpose of an incubator? It is to keep a baby warm, oxygenated and nourished — to simulate as closely as possible the conditions of the womb. There is another mechanism for accomplishing these goals, Rey reasoned, the same one that cared for the baby during its months of gestation. Rey also felt, something that probably all mothers feel intuitively: that one reason babies in incubators did so poorly was that they were separated from their mothers. Was there a way to avoid the incubator by employing the baby’s mother instead?

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What he came up with is an idea now known as kangaroo care. Aspects of kangaroo care are now in use even in wealthy countries — most hospitals in the United States, for example, have adopted some kangaroo care practices. But its real impact has been felt in poor countries, where it has saved countless preemies’ lives and helped others to survive with fewer problems.

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Sometimes the most obvious solutions are right in front of us.